Day 1 -- August 8, 2003
Our Holy Cross trip was rescheduled to this weekend after Julie had to bail last weekend when she couldn’t get away from work. We celebrated my baby sister’s nineteenth birthday on Thursday at The Fort (great restaurant near Morrison) and Julie and I spent the night at my parents’ house in Littleton. We woke up at 6:15 Friday morning, threw our clothes on, filled our water bottles, had a few bites of leftover birthday cake, and hit the road.
The drive up to Vail was uneventful and we pulled off to stop at McDonalds for one last restroom break. They had the doors by the restrooms locked so that we had to go through the front door. I’m not sure if this was to discourage people like us who only wanted to use the restroom without purchasing anything. Regardless, I had no problem with just marching straight back to the restrooms without buying anything. I figured I’ve bought enough hamburgers from them in my short 25 years that the least they can do is let me use there facilities every once in a while.
With that task done we headed for the trailhead. I was surprised by how big Minturn had become. The last time I came through it I hadn’t remembered the strip mall on the I-70 side of town or the upscale condos on the Leadville side of town. All I remembered was the few shops and restaurants near where the dogleg was. I supposed it shouldn’t have surprised me that it’s being built up. It had a really great location being situated right between Vail and Beaver Creek Ski Areas. I bet that in another five to ten years it will be glitzed up just like Vail and Avon. Then I tried to think back: when was the last time I passed through Minturn? It must have been the last time I rode “The Iron Triangle” bicycle ride with my dad and his friends five years earlier. The Iron Triangle is a bike ride one of my dad’s friends made up. It starts in Frisco and goes over Vail Pass to Minturn. Then it heads over Battle Mountain and Tennessee Pass to Leadville. From there it goes over Freemont Pass into Copper Mountain and then rolls back into Frisco. It’s a nice ride and almost exactly one hundred miles.
Anywho, we drove through Minturn and we accidentally missed our turnoff. I was expecting to see a sign or something but when the road hit the switchbacks I knew that something was probably wrong. Unfortunately I’d left the map in my pack so I had to pull over to the side of the road and run around to the back and fish it out. When we studied the map it was clear that I should have taken the right turn before crossing over the Eagle River. We retraced our steps and then headed up the dirt road. Soon we arrived at the trailhead. We got our gear together and I filled out the new voluntary permit form. There was also a Forest Service employee gearing up and he made sure to double check that I filled out the permit. After I filled out the form I came back to the car to throw my pack on. Julie looked at me with tears forming in her eyes to tell me that she felt a migraine coming on. I asked her what the consequence of this was on our plans. She said she didn’t know but she wanted to soldier on. She took her migraine medications and we both hoped for the best.
We set out up the trail. Initially the trail wound through stands of aspen mixed with pine and every once in a while there was a little meadow filled with wildflowers. We even saw a young doe bound through one of these meadows. Julie wasn’t complaining about her head and we were moving pretty quickly so I began to hope against hope that the migraine wasn’t going to be a big deal. Unfortunately I was wrong and another twenty minutes down the trail Julie stopped and told me that she couldn’t go on. Up until we saw the deer, Julie hadn’t been in any real pain. She’d been seeing a halo and here vision had been a little cloudy but that was it. However, after we passed the deer her vision cleared up and the headache began. At this point it was too much for her to bare. We discussed our options and came to the conclusion that there were four real choices: (a) We could both go back to the car and dump our packs and Julie could sleep off the headache while I found some way to amuse myself during the day. We could then car-camp that night and I could make a one-day trip of Mount of the Holy Cross the following day. (b) Julie could go back to the car by herself and sleep off the headache. I could continue on alone spend the night by myself in the backcountry and then climb Holy Cross the following day. After the climb I would pack back out to the car where Julie would meet me after amusing herself in Vail or somewhere during the day. (c) We could sit and wait it out and see if the headache went away. (d) I could go on alone while Julie sat and waited for her headache to abate. She could then try to catch up.
We were both frustrated with the situation and tensions were high. I had my heart set on this trip for at least half a year and Julie was also looking forward to it. It was hard for me to hold back my disappointment and Julie was interpreting this as me being angry with her. After a difficult conversation we decided on option (c). However, I was too antsy to just sit there and wait so I decided to hump my pack up to the top of Half Moon Pass and then come back down for hers. While I was doing this Julie dragged out her sleeping bag and sleeping pad and took a nap. It only took me fifteen minutes to hike up to the top of Half Moon Pass. When I got there I was a little confused that I wasn’t able to see Mount of the Holy Cross. I was under the impression that it would pretty obvious, but it wasn’t. There were some mountains off in the distance, but none of them looked like Mount of the Holy Cross and they looked a long way off. I got out my map and studied it. It looked possible that Mount of the Holy Cross was farther around to the south and that I couldn’t see it yet because the flanks of Notch Mountain were in the way. If this was the case then the peaks I saw off in the distance were probably Grouse Mountain. I hoped I was right.
After I got all that sorted out I headed back down to where Julie was napping. When I got there Julie said she needed some more time. I sat for another twenty minutes waiting. I woke Julie again and discussed our options. I realized now that I had killed all our options by humping my pack up to the top of Half Moon Pass because the car keys were in my pack. I silently berated myself for being so stupid. Since I had been such an idiot Julie decided that she would gut it out up to the top of the pass and we could re-evaluate the situation then. I sent her on her way while I packed up her sleeping bag and sleeping pad and then humped her pack up the trail. I quickly passed her and made my way to the top of the pass. Thankfully Julie’s pack was much lighter than mine (hers was roughly 25 pounds while mine was close to 40 pounds), however I didn’t want to mess it up for her by adjusting the straps. Consequently it sat on my back really high and was pretty uncomfortable.
While I sat on top of the pass and waited for Julie a couple came up from the East Cross Creek side. We chatted for a few minutes and they confirmed my suspicion that Mount of the Holy Cross was hidden behind the slopes of Notch Mountain. This couple was from somewhere along the Mississippi River and had come out here to scatter the ashes of a friend on Mount of the Holy Cross. Right as they were heading back down to the trailhead Julie showed up at the summit. She said she was starting to feel better and was encouraged that it was downhill all the way to East Cross Creek. I told here that we could stop there for the day if she was still feeling crappy and that bolstered her spirits. We were both feeling happy that she felt well enough to continue.
After a nice long rest on the top of Half Moon Pass we continued down the other side. On the way down we met a fellow with a daypack coming up. I asked him if he climbed Mount of the Holy Cross and he said he had. He’d left the trailhead at 7:00 and taken the standard route up to the summit. He wished me luck on my summit bid for the following day and we parted ways. Soon Julie and I made it down to East Cross Creek.
When we got there we met the Forest Service employee we’d seen at the trailhead. This time I took the opportunity to talk with him a little bit. He carried a shovel with him and I asked him what he had been working on. He said that he’d been disassembling fire rings at the campsites where East Cross Creek crossed Half Moon Trail. Fires were not allowed anywhere in the East Cross Creek drainage. He asked me where we were planning on camping and I told him Lake Patricia. He seemed pleasantly surprised and said we would have a great time. I took this opportunity to ask him what the best way to get up there was. Now I’m not exactly sure what happened, but there was a significant miscommunication between us on this point. I’m not sure if he told me wrong, or he told me correctly and my ears translated what he said incorrectly to my brain. Either way, I thought he told me to look for the inlet into the beaver pond and that’s where I would find a nice trail. Regardless, this was incorrect and I should have looked for the trail at the outlet of the beaver pond. Nevertheless, I thanked him for his advice and he took off back to the trailhead while Julie and I stopped for a rest and a snack.
Julie was feeling much better. She said her headache was all but gone. The only significant consequence from the migraine was the effect of the medication she’d taken. Julie said that it acted like a muscle relaxant and consequently her body was moving very slowly and she couldn’t go very fast. That was okay with me. If she could continue, I was gung-ho for making it up to Lake Patricia. She said she was game so I left her there to rest a little bit while I went to try to find this beaver pond and its inlet. After circling all the way around it from the west I found it, and what looked like a faint trail. Thinking I’d found the correct route I returned back to Julie. We saddled up once more and headed out.
We maneuvered around the beaver pond and then tried to follow the faint trail I’d found. This quickly petered out into a mass of willows. We bushwhacked through the willows until we encountered a large, steep boulder field. Some of these boulders were huge (ten-foot cubes) and required some serious climbing to surmount. To aid our progress, I pushed on ahead, dropped my pack, and then returned down to Julie to grab her pack. There were several moves that were a real challenge for me with a full pack. After making it past the boulders we encountered more impossibly steep terrain bordered on one side by a sheer rock face and the other side by the creek and a mass of willows. I continued to hump both Julie’s and my packs up the hill until we ran into a rock face. Our choices were to cross the creek, or go horizontally the other way until we could find a way up the rock wall. I thought crossing the creek was a bad move because all the rocks were wet and covered with slimy moss. I didn’t think there was any way we could get solid footing and make our way across without slipping and falling (a fall would have meant tumbling down the creek for a hundred feet). Instead I left Julie and our packs at that spot while I looked for another way up. After traversing along the rock face for a couple hundred feet I found a gully that would continue taking us upward. I marched back to Julie, we grabbed our packs, and we soldiered on. This gully was filled with soft duff, making the footing squishy. We continued climbing up this, me going ahead with my pack and then returning to help Julie with hers. After what seemed like forever, we finally reached what seemed to be the top of the steep stuff.
The only good thing about this part of the hike was that it was in the shade. I think the only one of us that was having any fun was our dog, Poudre. With being in the shade, going at a slow pace, and having all kinds of stuff to scramble over Poudre was having a ball.
We rested on top of this hill and drank hardily. We were starting to run out of water so I was hoping we’d make it soon. Either that, or I’d have to find a stream to filter some more water. After our rest we continued on. After another hundred yards of cross-country bushwhacking we came across what appeared to be a trail. This gave our spirits a big boost and we followed the trail along relatively flat ground until we were confronted by another sheer rock wall. By this time Julie was utterly exhausted and I wasn’t doing much better. We rested for a few minutes and then I continued on with my pack while Julie sat. There were some cairns marking a steep path up around the east side of the rock face so I followed them. The trail climbed steeply around the rock face and then popped out into a meadow with a small pond in it. I followed the trail around the first pound, then past another pond, and then another. After passing the third pond the trail petered out into another rock face. I climbed around to the west of the rock face. Out of breath and frustrated I decided to climb up on top of the rock to see if I could get a better feel for where exactly I was in the valley. I dropped my pack and scrambled the last fifteen feet to the top of the rock. The rock turned out to be a high spot in the ridge and I could see down to the east, west, and north. Unfortunately I could not see Lake Patricia so I sat down and pulled out the map. After studying the map I determined that Lake Patricia must be directly downhill to our east, just out of sight below the trees. On the map I was able to identify the small ponds I passed and Lake Patricia was directly east of them.
I climbed back down off the rock and back around to the meadow with the last pond. I dropped my pack and went back down to collect Julie. I found her where I left her underneath the rock face. I tried to encourage her, telling her that we were really close. Of course I’d been saying that for the last hour, so the words had little effect. I coaxed Julie onward while I hoisted her pack onto my shoulders once more. We climbed up the steep path and passed the tiny ponds. When Julie saw the first one she asked if that was Lake Patricia. I told her no, but fortunately it was now all downhill to Lake Patricia. When we reached my pack, I turned Julie’s pack over to her, and grabbed my own. We bushwhacked downhill to the east and within five minutes we were resting on the shores of Lake Patricia!
There were several nice rock slabs on the west shore of the lake. They made perfect spots for lounging and Julie and I just lay there for half an hour. While we were resting a group of obnoxious hikers came down East Cross Creek from upstream. They were shouting and hollering and being annoying. Julie and I worried that we’d have to share the lake all weekend with this group. We heard their bantering for another hour or so but soon it dissipated into silence. They must have been on a day hike because we didn’t see them again. I would have liked to stay there on that rock for another hour, but both Julie and I were parched and we were completely out of water. We reluctantly picked up our packs and looked for a site to pitch our tent. Luckily there was one close by and we dropped our packs for the last time. We started to unload and I took all our Nalgene bottles down to the lake to filter some water. After that chore was done, I came back to our campsite and I put up the tent while Julie got dinner going. We each had a package of Mountain House Mexican Chicken with rice, our favorite. I can’t believe they say that each package serves two. Julie and I both easily eat an entire package.
By the time we finished dinner it was six o’clock and I was ready for bed. However, it seemed wrong to go to sleep at 18:00 when the sun was still shining. In order to kill some more time before a reasonable bedtime I got my fishing stuff together and headed down to the lake to see if I could catch anything. Julie came down with me to watch and chat. I still had my little beadhead zugbug tied on that worked so well at American Lakes and I tossed it out into the lake. After a half an hour of absolutely nothing I lost interest. We’d been at the lake for at least two hours and neither Julie nor I had seen a fish jump or seen anything cruising. We sat on the shores of the lake for a while longer admiring the view of Mount of the Holy Cross and the interesting rocks and ledges leading to Bowl of Tears. As dusk descended we headed back to the tent. We straightened up our gear and I collected all my kit for tomorrow’s summit bid. I’d brought my new lightweight hydration pack and I loaded it with its three-liter bladder, my rain gear, first aid kit, map and compass, and a few snacks. I got everything squared away and then we climbed into our sleeping bags. Neither of us had brought a book with us since our order from amazon.com hadn’t arrived before we left home. Instead we played a couple of hands of gin rummy. This is one of the few strategy games where Julie regularly kicks my butt. This night was no different and she trounced me three straight games before I had enough. I set my alarm for 5:50 and 6:00 so that I would have a snooze and then we turned in for a well-deserved sleep.
Day 2 -- August 9, 2003
I awoke to my first alarm at 5:50 and waited in my sleeping bag for my second alarm to go off. When it did I hopped out of my sleeping bag and quickly got dressed into my convertible pants and polypro turtleneck. I let Poudre out and we both took a leak before I let him back into the tent to go back to sleep with Julie. I had a handful or two of trail mix and then set out on the climb at 6:15. I hiked south along the shore of Lake Patricia until the trail dead-ended into a steep rock face. I then climbed up and over the knoll to the west and soon popped out of the trees into a boulder field. Because I was so close to the summit, I didn’t feel I needed to wake up super early. One consequence of this was that I almost missed the morning glow on Mount of the Holy Cross. When I started out I could just barely see the summit bathed in morning glow so I snapped a photo. When I popped out of the trees and could see the summit once more the morning glow was gone.
I crossed the boulder field and soon reached a steep grassy gully. I climbed this gully up to the ridge that separated the valley from Angelica Couloir. I arrived at the top of the gully at 7:00. The timing was perfect because I was able to have a snack and watch the sunrise over Notch Mountain. From where I was situated on top of the grassy gully the sun almost came up right over the notch. If I’d been another couple hundred feet down the ridge the sun would have come up directly over the notch.
After my snack I turned around and headed into Angelica Couloir. I didn’t have to lose any elevation after the grassy gully and cruised across a mostly flat boulder field. I passed a couple of little patches of snow and then hit the steep stuff. The higher I got, the steeper the couloir got. Also, the higher I got, the looser and smaller the rock was. I had been hugging the right side of the couloir, the side farthest from the Mount of the Holy Cross, to avoid the snow that still remained. However, it became obvious there was another good reason to stay away from the Mount of the Holy Cross side—every few minutes a rock would come crashing down off the higher slopes. I looked above and couldn’t see what might be dislodging the rocks. I couldn’t find any mountain goats or anything kicking rock down and there shouldn’t have been any climbers on this side of the mountain.
Anyway, I continued on up Angelica Couloir making slow but steady progress. I wasn’t feeling super strong so I just took it slow. I think I was still tired from the previous day and I could feel a slight headache coming on. Luckily there was no reason for me to hurry. I had all day, and nobody was waiting on me. I made sure I kept drinking to ward off any dehydration and altitude sickness. After what seemed like a long, arduous climb I topped out of the couloir at 8:15. Now I was on the standard route and the going was much easier. I could see one party a couple of hundred yards ahead of me and I took off after them. I cruised up the class two section of boulder hopping and was on the summit by 8:45. While I was going up the last hundred feet a guy passed me going down and I said good morning. He gave me a friendly nod but didn’t pause in his descent to shoot the breeze. It looked like he was headed south to Halo Ridge, but I never saw him again.
I caught up with the couple I had seen earlier on the summit. They had climbed via the standard route and left their car at 4:15. We snacked and chatted for a few minutes. They were from Dacono, Colorado and asked if I knew of it. I told them that I’d never been there but I’d passed the Dacono - Fort Lupton sign ever time I traveled I-25. We exchanged notes on the fourteeners we’d climbed and they were almost at the exact same spot on their lists as me. We’d all climbed Longs, Bierstadt, Greys, and Torreys. They’d also done the Democrat, Lincoln, Bross loop which I planned to do later in 2003. In addition they’d climbed Evans (when they did Bierstadt) and Pikes. Their interest was peaked when I told them I’d climbed Crestone Peak the weekend before. I told them everything I could remember and urged them to take a 4WD vehicle when they went so they could make it all the way to the gate. After taking photos of each other I slung on my pack and headed off. My slight headache never materialized and I was glad. I figured I had dodged the bullet on that one because the rest of my hike would be downhill.
On my way down I met another couple coming up. We exchanged hellos and the guy made a comment about the weather turning and that they were hurrying to get off the mountain. Up until this point I hadn’t been paying any attention to the weather, but when he mentioned it I looked up to the skies. Sure enough there were puffy clouds starting to form to south and southeast. I was glad that I had already tagged the summit and was headed down. I’d be below the ridgeline in another fifteen minutes.
The going was easy across the mild downhill and I made good time down to the saddle between Mount of the Holy Cross and Point 13,831. When I got down to the lowest point of the saddle I was going to drop down into a long wide cirque known as Teardrop. Teardrop wraps around the south slopes of Mount of the Holy Cross and would drop me into the Bowl of Tears basin. There was a cornice on the north end of Teardrop but if I continued a little further along the saddle I could easily avoid it and drop into Teardrop without trouble. This was what I did and with a class three move or two I was in Teardrop. Towards the top there was a large, flat, rock slab. The slope of this was a little too steep to walk down. I thought that my boots might not grip the smooth rock and if I slipped it would be a painful fall. Instead I skirted around it to my left (Mount of the Holy Cross side) and avoided the rock slab by scrambling down some talus.
From there it was just a matter of chugging down the scree and talus slope. The rock was incredibly loose and with every step I was kicking stuff down. Luckily there was nobody anywhere near me and I didn’t have to be careful about knocking anything down onto people. After a while I came to a large snowfield. In it I found an interesting sight. There was a huge boulder, as big as a small house, lying in the center of the snowfield. It was obvious that until recently the boulder had been a hundred yards further up the snowfield. There was a large track in the snowfield where the boulder had slid. This had happened relatively recently because the snow in the track was still clean and white whereas the surrounding snow was dingy and dirty. I wondered how long this had taken. Did it take all day, or did it take thirty seconds? That would have been really cool to watch. I also took advantage of the snowfield to make rapid progress down the hill. The slope wasn’t quite steep enough for a glissade, but I could run/ski down the slope easily.
After the snowfield it was back to slogging down the talus and scree. However the rocks began to get bigger and soon I was in a genuine boulder field. In the middle of the cirque were a couple of little tarns. They weren’t much bigger than swimming pools, maybe one hundred feet across. They were crystal clear and incredibly blue. I had also been keeping a wary eye on the skies and I didn’t like what I was seeing. The clouds had been building and were now looking very menacing to the south and southeast. Fortunately I hadn’t heard any thunder or seen any lightning. I had my full rain kit with me so I wasn’t worried about getting cold or wet. However, negotiating the boulder fields would become much more difficult if the rocks were slick with rain.
I continued crossing the boulder field and then rounded the southern flank of Mount of the Holy Cross and began heading north. Bowl of Tears appeared far below me. The tarn was an incredibly intense blue. I don’t think I’d ever seen a lake look that blue in my life. It was incredible. For me, visiting Bowl of Tears was almost as big of a draw as bagging Mount of the Holy Cross. I’d seen some photos of the tarn on SummitPost and I really wanted to see it for myself. I scrambled down the slope of large boulders until I was on the northwest shore. It was very still in the Bowl of Tears basin and there wasn’t a ripple on the surface of the tarn. When I got down to the shore of Bowl of Tears the threatening clouds obscured the sun, the lighting changed, and the lake wasn’t quite as blue. I snapped a few pictures and walked around to the outlet of the tarn. I stopped for a quick snack and admired my setting. I was really impressed by how still it was. There wasn’t a breath of wind to stir the glass-like surface of the lake and there weren’t any birds or animals making any sounds. There was no vegetation rustling and there certainly weren’t any other people about.
I reveled in the peace of my surroundings for a few more moments before continuing my trek. The route downhill from Bowl of Tears followed East Cross Creek. For the first few hundred yards it was easiest to just follow along the creek, jumping from boulder to boulder. There were many cascades and tiny waterfalls and the going was very pleasant. After a while though the creek disappeared below the boulders and the boulders got bigger. Soon I was scrambling around house-sized boulders. There were several places where I chose poorly and came to the top of a boulder from which I couldn’t continue. When this happened, I retraced my steps until I found a path that would get me through the labyrinth. It was really fun.
After a while the boulders shrunk in size and the East Cross Creek reappeared. Willows began to line the banks of the creek and I was forced to stick to higher ground on the west side of the creek to avoid a nasty bushwhack. I scampered from boulder to boulder with the creek flowing thirty to forty feet below me. I continued like this for another twenty minutes or so and then the valley that the creek was running down began to narrow up. Suddenly the valley appeared to come to an end. There was a wall of rock ahead and to both sides. Apparently the creek flowed under the large rock wall somehow, but I was going to have to find another way. I spotted a cairn on the other side of the creek that looked like it was leading into a notch in the rock that I could descend. I worked my way across to the east side of East Cross Creek and hiked past the cairn. It did lead to a little passage in the rock. The passage was about ten feet wide and the walls rose up fifteen to twenty feet on either side. I followed the passage for a little ways and then it descended steeply to a meadow below.
When I popped out of the passage into the meadow I looked around. Indeed, the creek seemed to be flowing out of the rock wall a hundred yards away to the west. There looked like there was an alternative route coming over the jumble of boulders on the far side of the creek. I could also see Lake Patricia in the distance. In hindsight I should have walked over to where the creek was coming out of the rock wall to examine what was going on. However, I was beginning to tire and I was focused on completing my journey and making it back to camp. Also, the clouds were beginning to spit rain and I wanted to avoid being out in a downpour if possible (I still hadn’t heard any thunder or seen any lightning so that was a good thing). I navigated around the edge of the meadow because it was marshy with many little ponds and rivulets meandering around in it. When I got to the other end of the meadow I crossed over to the west side of the creek and found a trail in the dirt. I followed this for a couple hundred yards until things began to look familiar. In another hundred yards I could see the tent and I strolled into camp at 11:45. Julie and Poudre were fiddling with something in the tent and didn’t sense my approach. When I said “hi” I nearly scared them both to death.
I didn’t really think I’d done a great job of hydrating myself during the hike so I downed a Nalgene bottle of Crystal Lite while I told Julie about the hike. Julie and Poudre had slept in late and had been piddling around camp for the last hour or so. I was pretty whipped so I decided to take nap. Julie and Poudre had nothing better to do so they joined me.
I awoke an hour and a half later feeling refreshed. Julie and I decided to take our lunch on the other side of the lake where there was a beautiful cascade. It looked like the skies had cleared during our nap and now there were was only an occasional cloud in the sky and none of them looked threatening. It had never rained more than that few drops on me, and only at the end of the hike. From our minimal exploration the evening before we knew that we couldn’t just walk around the shore of the lake to get to the cascade. The combination of a ten-foot wide stream, a maze of willows, and a steep ten-foot rock face made this route all but impossible. Instead we hiked a couple hundred yards to the south of Lake Patricia and then worked our way across the creek where there were stones to take advantage of. We looped out around the willows and creek and popped out on top of the rock with the cascade. In hindsight it might have been easier to wade along the shore of the lake to get to the cascade, but Poudre wouldn’t have liked this option because he’s not a swimmer. We snapped some photos and then ate lunch. We hung out on top of the rock and watched and listened to the water gurgling down the rock. There were incredible views in all directions and everything was so peaceful. Julie and I really enjoyed it.
After about an hour we retraced our steps back to camp. We picked up the deck of cards, some snacks for Poudre, and another bottle of Crystal Lite and headed around to the north end of Lake Patricia. At the north end of the lake there was a narrow neck and then the lake opened up again before the outlet at the furthest north point. From where we had been sitting near the cascade on the south end of the lake, the north end looked really interesting with large flat rocks surrounding the water. We made our way down a nice trail that circled the lake and soon arrived at the north end. We found a large, flat rock to sit on and unloaded our supplies. We played a couple of hands of cards and Poudre had some PowerBones. It was pretty hot out when the sun wasn’t behind a cloud so I decided I’d take a dip in the lake. I’d always wanted to go skinny-dipping in an alpine lake, but the circumstances never seemed to work out. There always seemed to be too many people about, or the water was way too cold, or the sun wasn’t out and the air temperature was too cold. However, things seemed to all work out this day—there wasn’t a soul around and it was pretty hot with only a few clouds in the sky. I stripped off my cloths, girded up my courage, and slid into the water. It was damn cold and I couldn’t stand to be in it more than a few moments so I jumped out quickly and sunned my self on the rocks. It felt great to let the sun dry me off. In about ten minutes I was completely dry and beginning to get hot again so I took another dip. I continued this process of slipping into the freezing water and then drying off in the sun all afternoon while Julie and I played gin rummy and talked. Towards the end of the afternoon I was even able to coax Julie in for a dip.
One interesting thing Julie and I observed during the afternoon was a large rockslide on Mount of the Holy Cross. We were sitting there playing cards when we started to hear a soft rumbling. The noise gradually became louder and we determined that it was coming from Mount of the Holy Cross. We focused on the mountain and searched for the source of the noise. We couldn’t see any rocks falling but soon we could see a large cloud of dust forming on the mountain’s north face. This must have been a very large rockslide for us to see and hear it from so far away. It looked like it happened near where the grassy gully met up with Angelica Couloir. Part of me was glad that I was long gone from the area and safe, but part of me wished I was still there so that I would have had a front row seat for what I’m sure was an impressive sight.
Long about 16:00 we heard a dog bark off to the north. It sounded relatively close, but we never heard another bark. Julie and I decided that this was our cue to put or clothes back on. We played cards for a while longer and then made our way back to our tent. Julie got some water on for dinner and I took our Nalgene bottles down to Lake Patricia to filter some water. While I was finishing up with the water I saw the group with the dog that we had heard bark an hour and a half earlier. They were down at the north end of the lake near where we had been skinny-dipping. I’m not sure if these people were just up on a day hike to Lake Patricia from somewhere else, or if they camped down on that end of the lake. Regardless, we never heard or saw them again. I took the water back up to our campsite and by this time Julie had one of our dinners ready. We shared the dinner of chicken teriyaki and played some more cards. After a while we made up a second dinner of chicken teriyaki and some hot cocoa. We continued playing cards with Julie winning the lion’s share of the hands. As it started to get dark we straightened up the campsite and packed our gear away before retiring to the tent for a few more hands of gin rummy. It was starting to get dark and Julie was excited to get her first opportunity to try out the new headlamp I’d bought her (Petzl Tikka). It seemed to work great for camp chores and Julie liked it. After another couple hands of cards Julie turned off her headlamp and we went to sleep.
Day 3 -- August 10, 2003
We awoke at 7:15 and rolled out of the tent. It had rained a little during the night and the outside of the tent was all wet. The sun wouldn’t be hitting our campsite for at least another hour so we had no choice but to put the tent away wet. Once again I’d be forced to set it up at home to get it dry. We made some hot cocoa to drink while we finished the chores of packing up the sleeping bags and pads and getting everything all stowed away in our packs. By the time we had everything sorted out and were ready to hit the trail it was 8:00.
As I saw it, we had two choices. We could bushwhack up to the ponds and go down the trail we had found on Friday, or we could follow the fairly well defined trail that looped around Lake Patricia and hope that it went somewhere. Julie wanted to bushwhack up to the ponds and go down the trail we found Friday. This was cool with me and I wanted Julie to have some ownership over the decision. That way if it turned out that this was even worse than the way we came up she couldn’t entirely blame it on me.
We set off in the direction of the ponds and quickly found the trail. We then followed it down the hill toward Half Moon Trail hoping for the best. It turned out that we made the correct choice and this trail was better than we could have hoped for. It swung around below some steep rock faces over toward the east side of the valley and we could hear East Cross Creek thundering down the waterfalls off in the distance. The trail crossed a couple of talus slopes and deftly maneuvered us around giant boulders. It was steep, but much easier than what we’d come up. It was also comforting to know that we weren’t blazing our own trail and that others had followed this path. There was only one difficult move going down. It was a steep slope with a couple boulders in it where there was a five-foot drop. I debated whether we should take off our packs, have one of us go to the bottom, and then pass the packs down. This would have worked equally well, but it turned out we were both able to do it without taking our packs off. After this tough move it was only another fifteen minutes before we arrived at Half Moon Trail.
It sure was a breeze to get down. I posted the directions for finding this trail at SummitPost and I hoped they would come in handy for other backcountry adventurers. Julie and I caught our breaths after crossing East Cross Creek and I gave Julie a PowerGel. She’d never had one and I thought she might like it. However, she made a weird face when she ate it and said she wasn’t so sure about the texture. I didn’t know if she liked it or not. I hoped that it would give her a big enough energy boost to get back over Half Moon Pass.
After a quick rest we set off for Half Moon Pass. I let Julie set the pace and she started out at a good clip. However, she soon was out of breath and we had to stop. We set out again and she had to stop in another hundred yards. After this happened once more I told her that I’d rather she go slower and set a pace she could sustain for a long time instead of stopping every hundred yards. She agreed to try it and we set off once more. I kept reminding Julie to concentrate on controlling her breathing and heart rate and she seemed to be mastering it since we weren’t stopping every hundred yards anymore. We made slow but steady progress up Half Moon Pass and were soon past all the switchbacks. At about this point we were passed by a group of day hikers headed for Mount of the Holy Cross. As they passed I commented to Julie that they were getting a pretty late start as it must have been around 10:00 or 10:30 at the time. Luckily the sky seemed to be clear of clouds and I hoped they would have a good day. A little further up the trail we passed by another couple headed for the summit. The gal was wearing jeans and tennis shoes and the guy with carrying all their gear in a little daypack. Julie and I marveled about hiking in jeans. You couldn’t have paid either one of us to go hiking in jeans! It just went to show what a wide spectrum of people are out there trying to bag fourteeners. On one end there was the super-prepared and cautious people that started at 4:00 like the people I’d met the day before, and on the other end there was the people that threw caution to the wind and start at 9:00, hiking in jeans and tennis shoes.
After a while we arrived at the top of the pass. Julie was feeling pretty good and I was very pleased at how we’d cruised up the pass. After she started concentrating on controlling her breathing and heart rate she had done great. We rested and ate some trail mix on the top of Half Moon Pass. Now we were ready to get back to the car and back home. We threw on our packs and set off. A little ways down the pass we met another group coming up. These guys had full packs and they were going to base camp at East Cross Creek and make their summit bid from there. They congratulated me for summiting the previous day and we wished them luck. Soon after that we passed the spot where Julie had tried to recover from her migraine on Friday—it seemed so long ago. The rest of the hike was uneventful and we arrived at the car at about 11:45.
We tossed our packs in the car and peeled off our boots and socks. My feet were smelling pretty ripe and I hoped they wouldn’t stink up the car too bad when I put on my sandals. We always keep a gallon of water in the car so we could wash up a little bit too. The temperature of the water caught me off guard, but the splash of ice-cold water on my face and neck was exhilarating. Slightly cleaned up we piled into the car and headed out. We cruised through Minturn and out onto I-25. Julie was a little hungry and didn’t think she could wait to eat until dinner so we stopped at the McDonalds in Vail. I figured this was payback for using their restroom on the way out. Julie got a chicken sandwich and I got a hamburger before we headed back out onto I-25.
Traffic moved smoothly up and over Vail Pass, but after we passed through Dillon traffic ground to a halt on the slopes leading up to Eisenhower Tunnel. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, but we crawled up to Eisenhower Tunnel in stop-and-go traffic. Once we made it through the tunnel things seemed to magically clear up and we cruised down through Georgetown. Then, in the little towns outside of Idaho Springs, traffic slowed way down. It was still moving about 30 miles per hour so I decided to stay on the highway instead of getting off onto the back streets and weaving in and out of the residential communities. I don’t know if this was the quickest way, but it was probably easiest on my nerves. After we got through Idaho Springs, and the little tunnel, speeds kicked back up and we cruised into Denver and on to Fort Collins without incident.
When we got home we mustered the energy to take care of a couple of chores like airing out our sleeping bags and sleeping pads and setting up the tent to dry out. With those chores out of the way we showered and relaxed for the rest of the day. The weekend had turned out to be a great success even after its rocky start. Julie showed some real mettle by fighting through her migraine. I thought it was a real confidence booster for her to realize how well she did when she was feeling much less than perfect. Often when I planned an ambitious backpacking trip Julie could get very anxious about the difficulty of the trip. I thought most of the time this was unwarranted and that she just lacked that “can-do attitude.” I hoped this trip would be a major step in building up her “can-do attitude” and filling her with the confidence that she can achieve ambitious goals even under adverse conditions. Regardless, I was really proud of her and made sure she knew it.